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Quantum computing – Solving the most complex life science issues

The power of quantum computing holds great promise for the life science industry, not least speeding up and reducing costs within drug discovery.

McKinsey & Company describes quantum computing like this in one of their Insight articles (What is quantum computing? 2023): “Classic computing is built on bits while quantum computing is built on quantum bits, qubits, which can store zeros and ones. Qubits can represent any combination of both zero and one simultaneously and this is called a superposition.”

The results is that quantum computers can be much faster and do several things much more efficiently than classical computers.”

When classical computers solve a problem with multiple variables they must conduct a new calculation every time a variable changes. Quantum computers, however, have a larger working space, which means they can explore a massive number of paths simultaneously. The results is that quantum computers can be much faster and do several things much more efficiently than classical computers.

How can quantum computing improve life science R&D?

Within drug discovery there are many computationally complex issues, including the challenge of predicting with extreme accuracy the binding of drug molecules to certain proteins in our body that are responsible for a given disease. This is crucial to understanding how the drugs function and how they will eventually cure diseases.

The IBM Institute for Business Value gives us an example in an article (Exploring quantum computing use cases for life sciences, 2020): “The number of molecules made up of say 50 atoms that can be built using just 10 different types of atoms amounts to around 1050. If, in addition, we also add the exponentially large number of possible molecular configurations and conformations that can be sampled at room temperature, the total number of molecules that could potentially constitute a valid drug is larger than the roughly 1,080 atoms in the observable universe.”

The potential of quantum computing within life sciences

RAND Europe, a not-for-profit research organization, stated for example in a research report for the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Novo Holdings (Using Quantum Computers and Simulators in the Life Sciences, 2022) that quantum computers and quantum simulators promise a myriad of opportunities in the life science sector that could fundamentally change the industry.

Quantum computing’s ability to simulate larger, more complex molecules could be game changing.”

Even now, the field is making great progress within drug development, simulation of chemical processes, and genetic and genomic sequencing. McKinsey & Company writes in an article (Pharma’s digital Rx: Quantum computing in drug research and development, 2021) that quantum computing’s ability to simulate larger, more complex molecules could be game changing. Pharmaceutical companies should reflect on their strategic stance to this promising new technology now, the authors state.

The future of quantum computing within life sciences

The IBM Institute for Business Value has written for example that there is a cross-industry race toward quantum applications. In the life sciences industry, quantum computing is expected to enable a range of disruptive use cases, including creating precision medicine therapies by linking genomes and outcomes, improving patient outcomes through enhancing the efficiency of small-molecule drug discovery, and developing novel biological products based on protein folding predictions, the authors write.

Nordic strengths in quantum computing

Finnish Algorithmiq is high up on the list of promising companies within this field, many call them a frontrunner, and these are busy times for them. Their platform offers a method of extracting information from quantum devices, interfacing with hardware to perform quantum chemistry simulations. Additionally, it contains a new framework, Quantum Network Medicine, developed by the company and presented last year in a white paper, to give context to the complexity of cell biology.

The company was founded in 2020, and CEO and co-founder is Sabrina Maniscalco, a Professor of Quantum Information, Computing and Logic at the University of Helsinki, with over 20 years of experience of quantum technology.

Company milestones, since its founding in 2020, include a commercial launch of Aurora, their drug discovery platform, and a partnership with IBM that allows the scale-up to combine its software with the corporation’s world-leading hardware. Earlier this year, the company raised EUR 13.7 million in a Series A round led by Inventure VC. Also participating in the round was Tesi, the state-owned Finnish investment company, Presidio Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, and London-based Thames Trust, together with existing backers. This financing will allow the company to pursue its proof-of-concept work with pharmaceutical companies globally, it stated.

We are at a tipping point in quantum computing and Algorithmiq is on track to achieve useful quantum advantage over traditional computing, the next necessary milestone within the field.”

“We are at a tipping point in quantum computing and Algorithmiq is on track to achieve useful quantum advantage over traditional computing, the next necessary milestone within the field. As such, we feel the company is taking a clear lead and paving the way for major advances in drug discovery. Having already developed a strong partnership with IBM and launched a commercial-ready platform, Sabrina and her team are well set to develop the all-important life sciences partnerships with the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies,” stated Lauri Kokkila, Partner at Inventure VC after the financing round.

In October 2023 Algorithmiq also entered a collaboration project together with Cleveland Clinic, USA, to jointly develop computational tools to investigate the potential of quantum computing in cancer drug development. This project will utilize Algorithmiq’s Aurora platform, powered by IBM’s quantum hardware, alongside Cleveland Clinic’s drug application expertise to showcase quantum advantage in creating photon-activated cancer drugs.

The era of quantum utility

Algorithmiq’s long term plans will involve platform licensing and further partnerships to help solve some of life sciences’ complex problems, it states. Recently, the team also published a paper with AstraZeneca demonstrating the value of Aurora’s potential for future use cases.

The Nordic region already has strong players in the quantum hardware space, but true innovation will come at the intersection between software and hardware whereby software can exponentially amplify the capabilities of the hardware, states the company to NLS. “Thus bringing further support to those disruptive software companies will be a game changer in the advancement of QC and in putting Finland and the Nordics on the map to lead the way,” it states.

We’re entering the era of quantum utility – exciting times are ahead.”

In November 2023, Algorithmiq organized the Nordic Quantum Life Sciences event in Helsinki.

“We are proud to be able to bring together some of the brightest minds and world experts in the field of quantum life sciences and computational biology & chemistry – reinforcing Finland and the rest of the Nordics leading position in the field of quantum life sciences,” says Sabrina Maniscalco.

“This is testament to the monumental amount of progress achieved by the team at Algorithmiq over the past year, now putting us in a position where we can demonstrate the power of our noise mitigation strategies when implemented on hardware to solve complex chemistry applications. This is shown by the work we are doing with IBM, Cleveland Clinic for the Wellcome Leap and with AstraZeneca in our most recent paper with their quantum chemistry teams. We’re entering the era of quantum utility – exciting times are ahead,” she concludes.

Featured photo of Sabrina Maniscalco: Algorithmiq

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